A Humility Cage Match: Schmitz vs Mackler vs Tolkien

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A 3-way cage match.

I have, by some coincidence watched three videos – and two of them in a row which dealt with humility. It is not much of a surprise, since YouTube’s algorithms would easily be responsible for that.

The first video on humility came from Father Mike Schmitz, the second from author J. R. R. Tolkien. I will try to deal with these in tandem. I also vaguely recall some time ago, humility mentioned by ex-psychotherapist Daniel Mackler.

I’ll discuss the one by Mackler first, since it came to me quite a while ago, although I can’t provide a definite link for it. The other two were the ones that came on the same day. Mackler’s conception of humility is that it is the thing that is needed for a successful, honest self-analysis. When a person is not learning from their mistakes, or display an inability to be reflective, it is because they lack humility. If you think you are perfect, then you will feel you have nothing to learn. Humble people make the best leaders and are the most engaged with people around them. Mackler goes into a number of ways by which our self-honesty is blocked, and it is usually out of the mistaken thinking that humility is a weakness. A psychology-based website gives six markers for people who display humility: 1) self-honesty; 2) an accurate perception of our place in the world; 3) an ability to acknowledge our mistakes and limitations; 4) openness; 5) low self-focus; 6) an appreciation for the value of all things.

For me, Mackler’s definition is straightforward. Father Schmitz has another straightforward one, obviously from the Bible (the Catholic Bible, since the book of Sirach is mentioned).

Humility is high enough on the Christianity totem pole that it is listed as one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues; the other six being chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness, and patience. The opposite of these are the Seven Deadly Sins, which are: pride, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, and wrath.

Schmitz gives in his homily a punchy, straightforward set of talking points on humility. The main thing is that humility is not the same as thinking less of yourself, since that is the popular conception, and it is wrong. Rather than thinking less of yourself, humility is thinking of yourself less. Humility is taking an interest in and paying attention to others. Humility is always taking opportunities to be thankful to people, and to show gratitude. Humility is also the willingness to acknowledge the truth about yourself and your shortcomings, at least to yourself, and to learn from that. Schmitz and most clergy are more interested in aiming their homilies at getting through life and into heaven, and so he doesn’t say much on humility’s application in making you a better leader.

J. R. R. Tolkien would say less about the latter, although all three volumes of Lord of the Rings are replete with lessons of the value of humility. The One Ring of Power tempted everyone who laid eyes on it. But the most tempted were the ones with traces of status given to them by their race and birth: elves, dunedain, dwarves, men. Hobbits had so little status, that most of these other denizens of Middle Earth hadn’t even been aware of their existence for quite some time. So simple a folk were they, that it appeared they had no ego to bruise, no pride to hurt, no magical ability, and so a hobbit like Frodo could carry the ring of power without anywhere near the damage it would have done to any other race described in the story. But as we find out, it will still do damage, even to hobbits.

Isildur took the ring from Sauron, but succumbed to the temptation of pride and power of the ring and so refused to throw the ring into Mount Doom, and died while carrying it. The ring thus became known as Isildur’s Bane. Gandalf knew he couldn’t carry the ring; neither could Galadriel. Boromir also fell into temptation of obsessing over the ring, and died. The creature Gollum wore and possessed the ring for centuries as it stretched his lifespan and fell into a life of long hardship, isolation and loneliness. The skeletal, wiry Gollum we read of in these volumes used to be a hobbit, and went by the name Smeagol. His brother Deagol found the Ring of Power, and Smeagol murdered him over it, and took possession of it.

The feelings expressed most often in response to the ring are lust, envy, and greed. The characters in the story either overcome these deadly sins, or they themselves die at some point. So, LOTR works as an epic-sized morality play, where good triumphs over evil. It is no suprise that the author chose the most humble characters he could, two hobbits, to finally throw the ring into the fire, to show the triumph of good over evil. But as the video discussion from Inspiring Philosophy tried to get across, virtue itself is not responsible, it just provides conditions for the ring to be destroyed. In the actual story, Frodo also succumbed to weakness at the worst possible moment, only to be outdone by a much less virtuous character, Gollum, both whose ring and himself end up falling into the fires of the volcano in Mount Doom. Frodo just needed to be an imperfect Frodo; Gollum just needed to be a deeply conflicted creature who has succumbed to the ring; and Good would triumph, since that is the way Eru Iluvatar designed the world in the beginning, according to the tale. There needs to be no other hero except Eru Iluvatar, the God figure of the story, with all others being an instrument of Eru’s will.

What I have a slight problem with, is, the idea that the entire saga has as its backdrop the “races” issue, and with it the conception that some of them rank higher than others. It appears to be roughly: Maiar > Wizards > Elves > Dwarves > Dunedain > Men > Hobbits, with equivalent rankings among “evil” beings. It means that a precondition of humility in this story is that you know your “station” in life in connection to your race. The consequences of rising above that station are tantamount to rebelling against God’s design, and instead making your own meaning and way in life that is separate from God’s plan. This was shown in The Silmarillion with Melkor wanting to do just that in the form of creation of the new world, leading ultimately to the downfall of evil at the end of the three volumes of LOTR.

I think it is one reason that the Amazon Prime Video creation Rings of Power came into existence. For all of its overt and largely unnecessary political correctness, what it tries to do is to do away with this “station in life” thing. I agree with the sentiment that we do away with such things in connection with “humility”, since it acquiesces in the powers-that-be and prevents us from questioning it or doing something about it. In the world of LOTR by contrast, Hobbits should just shut up and tend their gardens, eat their food and keep smoking pipeweed; dwarves should just shut up and hide inside their mountains, make Mithril and stone carvings; and the world of Men should just be stewards of the earth going into the fourth age, as the other magical beings run away to the Undying Lands. What the Maiar decide to do with Middle Earth is beyond their ken and they have no right to an opinion about it or to ask questions. This describes a world built on Providence: a world where God is responsible for setting the conditions for the universal order (similar to the creation story involving Eru Iluvatar in “Ainulindalë: The Music of the Ainur” in The Silmarillion), and the only freedom the rest of us have is to accept God’s conditions and go about the lives we were born to live.

There is a kind of old-school Catholic sensibility to this, since Vatican II didn’t occur until 25 years after LOTR was written. The mentality that priests withheld more spiritual knowledge than they knew, as it was thought the congregation would never be smart enough to understand the deeper questions of life, follows this pattern. The laity would go about their lives, only to visit Church on Sunday, where the readings, psalms and homilies would give us a little glimpse into the spiritual mysteries of the world. After church, parishoners might have briefly reflected, if they did that at all, and then went about their lives. Pre-Vatican II, knowledge appeared to be something for the Church to hoard, then give in minute doses to the general public, and only when absolutely necessary. The thinking behind this being, I would suppose, that the Church provides the conditions for its flock to go about their lives without needing to ever seriously ask the larger questions. Indeed, providing for such conditions would require the asking of deep questions that no one else would need to bother with. Since the Mid-1960s and after Vatican II, there was a recognition that inquiry into deep questions of life is healthy and is something we all should do; and access to such sources of information should be open to everyone. The Church became more open in later decades, even as the number of parishoners began diminishing.

But Rings of Power overdoes it in that it also appears to do away with the very idea of humility, leading us back to a morality of the ends justifying the means, even if the “good guys” do bad things for good. I will stop short of what the vloggers at Inspiring Philosophy began to dignify with Nietzchian nihilism. My feeling is that there was no such thought process going on with the writers of Rings of Power. Based on some of the reviews I have read and heard about, there might even have been a problem with basic plot and character development. So it sounds like most of the $150 million per season appears to be sunk into making cinematic visuals and spectacle.

People who try to “make their own way” in life take freedom into their own hands, and with freedom comes responsibility. The demands on them are much greater than a hobbit who spends their lives eating, drinking and tending their crops and gardens. They need to learn more deeply about the value of taking responsibility for one’s own decisions and actions. They need to learn more about the world and about life and have a voracious curiosity about it as a result. In fact they would definitely need to be humble, since they are constantly up against how little they know about nearly everything. In fact, humility will be the way to the light when nearly everything else feels like darkness. Our world is full of ways of finding things out; of investigating and of looking before you leap. Such people have to learn to constantly take advantage of that. If you are beset with pride and think you know everything, you won’t see any of it, and you won’t last long in this lifestyle.

It is strange that this last way of conceiving of humility is rarely spoken about. The problem is not humility; the problem is that the humble person is beginning to show curiosity about matters that are deemed to be beyond their ken. They are not supposed to be asking these questions. But when this happens, these people are often spoken of in dark tones, and seen as breaking from God, breaking from family, breaking from society, breaking from the Church. It is said to lead to discord; to anarchy and chaos. They are often charitably referred to as “lost sheep”, or uncharitably as excommunicating themselves from God. It is a necessary illusion that keeps the rabble in line. And to maintain the illusion, it is important to prevent intelligent discussion about it. Even as we now live in a world full of people who make their own way in ways I could never imagine – transgenders, gay and lesbian, and other forms of gender bending – the bulk of the discussion is either immature-sounding or couched in obscure jargon and stilted rhetoric that appears to produce more smoke than light, and pitch these people against society more than normal. Intelligent, sane discussion shorn of its jargon is difficult to discern. Labelling is often unhelpful in understanding people or the world around us and we would be better off in a world without labels. Yet many of these people who would benefit from fighting off labels not only label themselves but the rest of us (binary versus nonbinary for example). Doing so might appear to give them a sense of strength and control, but it remains a false sense, thus falling into the same trap as the larger society fell into with such labelling.

Carrying a discussion where people are labelled only works if the people who are labelled accept the label. If they do not, they are usually not part of the discussion, and those labellers are left discussing their lives in an echo chamber where their isolation from mainstream society is intensified. Indeed, this is what has happened. “Discussions” about things like transgenderism with mainstream society often amount to lectures where adherents of transgenderism are very nearly the only ones doing the talking. There is no recognition that labelling is the central problem of the entire enterprise. Labelling is really more of an impediment to understanding of our fellow humans. Labels are used to separate people, and intensify social isolation. As a result, labels ultimately dehumanize those who are labelled. Even self-labelling is problematic and is self-dehumanizing.

There is the other question as to whether anyone would be brave enough to part with a lifestyle where everything is figured out and decided for them, in favour of a lifestyle where you have to decide everything for yourself. It is a scary prospect, and few would take the risk of taking over control of their lives in any profound way for this reason. For those who decide the former, they can turn off their thinking brain and go on autopilot through life. For those who decide the latter, there is no autopilot.

Due to circumstances beyond our control,
we are master of our fate and captain of our soul.
— unknown

Florida Man Made an Announcement

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The greatest headline ever, circled in red.

This is when some media have nailed it. The New York Post wrote a news article yesterday regarding a certain Florida retiree making an announcement. The headline is below the fold and cross-references you to turn to page 26 to see the actual article. When you turn there, you see the article referenced, this time with the headline “Been there, Don that” (sic).

This is Rupert Murdoch doing the ultimate in damning someone with faint praise. The retiree referred to here is apparently an avid golfer and collector of classified documents. He is also senile and is known to throw ketchup at the television. The retiree, a certain Donald J. Trump, is saying he will run for president in 2024. The article, which was not much over 100 words in its entirety, was bylined by “Post staff”.

That day’s issue headlined the wounding of a 3 year-old and another about a crackdown on gangs as the day’s top stories, the usual fare in the Murdoch-owned tabloid daily.

The entire article from start to finish.

Daniel Mackler

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I first became acquainted with Mackler’s work as a blogger on widltruth.net, and as a vlogger on YouTube. His YouTube channel is a middling channel with about 44,000 subscribers. He has written at least two books, which I have not read as of yet. He is a former psychotherapist and has in these latter days resorted to creating “content” (I hate that word, but it encompasses his many multimedia efforts) which go on about his views of the world, his views on psychotherapy, and his views on life, family, and human nature.

By and large, his vlogs and blog articles feel compelling, and hold my attention. But while his youtube vlogs, are usually clear and topic-focused, he generates relatively low views compared with other vloggers in a similar field such as Kati Morton and Dr. Todd Grande. I still find Mackler compelling, and to anyone who understands the daunting task he is giving himself in his multimedia efforts, he has no lower a status compared with these people.

He says he quit psychotherapy because he became disgruntled with the norms of the profession, and the way other patients are treated. His chief criticism was that therapists were too quick to drug people rather than get to the bottom of their traumas. As a psychotherapist, he asserts that all psychiatric disorders are rooted  in suppressed trauma. The “cure” for this is, if I understand it correctly, is to  get the patient to remember those past hurts, go through a grieving process, and then find a new sense of self by which growth can then feel more authentic.

This can be a long, exhausting, arduous process for both the therapist and the client. Most therapists, by Mackler’s reckoning, don’t want to go to the trouble of getting to the bottom of a person’s traumas, and would rather take part in continuing the supression and settling for an appearance of mental health, rather than the real thing. Such psychotherapists might refer them to a psychiatrist, where drugs and possible hospitalization are possible.

Mackler would oppose this, since he would feel that most administering of drugs and hospitalizations are an attempt to control the patient rather than offer actual help. The drugs and incarcerations appear to be done more for the therapist’s benefit than the patient’s. But Mackler feels that successful analyses are stymied by the failure of the therapist to analyze and understand their own trauma. By his reckoning, a greater understanding of one’s own trauma makes for a better therapist. The reliance of commision to a psych ward and drug therapy is inversely proportional to a psychotherapist’s understanding of their own hangups.

Mackler takes this further. He says that with a sufficiently self-actualized psychotherapist, one can cure a client of schizophrenia, without the aid of drugs. On that scale, I begin to think that Mackler quit because he feared he was insufficiently self-actualized for such tasks. Few of us would be, including few therapists. Humanity is, as he says in his videos, filled with people with unresolved trauma. Most of these traumas happen in early infancy and early childhood. So it would be quite difficult to find the kind of therapist that he would prefer to populate the profession.

Even more so, because one would have to ask, what is it that motivates someone to become a therapist in the first place? The field is normally populated with therapists with unresolved traumas of their own. And indeed, who better to understand the wounded than those who recognize their own wounds? I feel that Mackler places too high a standard on requiring therapists to dive down their own trauma rabbit hole to resolve all of them, or else conclude that their therapy is of no use.

In a perfect world, therapists would resolve all of their traumas, and bravely chart a course for patients to resolve their own, even for psychopaths and schizophrenics. But this is not a perfect world, and none of us are perfect. There is no “royal road” to self-actualization. We will always have imperfect helpers, imperfect institutions, imperfect professional norms, imperfect laws and regulations. One also needs reminding that it is an imperfect world that produces trauma in the first place. In a perfect world, there would be no psychological trauma and thus there would not be a need to train and employ practitioners. Mental hospitals would vanish. Drug companies would have to abandon psychoactive drugs as sales would have dried up. Daniel Mackler would be without a profession to abandon and criticize.

I feel that Mackler’s disillusionment of the mental health professions appear to be more of a lost romanticism about its practitioners. Yes indeed, drugs and incarceration are probably the norm, and so much so that Mackler is probably looked at as weird for thinking it’s weird. Mackler was in the profession for 10 years and had a lot to lose by quitting his profession. It likely signals that what he saw from the inside turned him off, but at the same time he saw himself moving in the same direction and wanted out.

Last year (2021) in searches

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I know. This one is late in coming. And there will be another one in two months. I get it. These were all popular Google searches in 2021.

This is the last calendar year in searches, by category:

    1. General searches: Australia vs India
    2. News: Afghanistan (seconded by AMC Stock)
    3. Actors: Alec Baldwin (#5: who is Armie Hammer?)
    4. Athletes: Christian Eriksen
    5. Foods: Birria Tacos
    6. Games: PopCat
    7. Movies: 1) Eternals, 2) Black Widow, 3) Dune
    8. Passings: DMX (professional name of rapper Earl Simmons)
    9. People: 1) Alec Baldwin, 2) Kyle Rittenhouse
    10. Songs: Driver’s License, Olivia Rodrigo
    11. Sports teams: Real Madrid CF
    12. TV Shows: Squid Game

Searches at all time highs, in no particular order:

    1. power outage
    2. amanda gorman (most searched poet)
    3. mittens
    4. doomscrolling
    5. sea shanties
    6. affirmations
    7. Meghan and Harry interview (compared to other interviews
    8. impact of climate change
    9. What is a hate crime
    10. suez canal
    11. sustainability
    12. how to maintain mental health
    13. what is a meme stock
    14. ugly sweaters near me
    15. who was ryan white

E-Bikes

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The Devinci E-Cartier

I admit that after being made into a lump by covid, it was considered a breath of fresh air to commute to work with my e-bike. I own a Quebec-made E-Cartier. The distance is one that I wouldn’t normally have time to cover on a daily basis, except this bike made it happen. This bike has a motorized assist built into the pedal assembly. And as an “assist”, it does just that; it helps you. If you stop pedalling, the bike just coasts. You do, in fact have to put effort into your pedalling, contrary to stereotypes, and yes, it can amount to a pretty good workout.

The external battery and the motor add greatly to the weight of the bike. When the battery loses its charge, you are left with lugging an unusually heavy bike. I have been pretty good about recharging the battery in a timely fashion, so power outages are rare. In normal circumstances, if you started as an out-of-shape lump like me, the bike can still give a good workout, even  with the assist. Of course, you can be in control of how much assist you want: turn down the level if you want more of a workout, or turn it off altogether. When turned off, the battery can still power the instrument display, consisting of a digital odomoeter, speedometer, and battery level indicator. It can also show how much assist you are getting.

The bike was about CAD$3000 when new. It was neither the cheapest E-bike, nor the most expensive.

The VanMoof s5 E-bike

But I have heard from the New York Times that there is a new, sleeker bike in the CAD$4800 range that has much of the bulky and unsightly stuff such as cables, batteries, and even lights embedded inside the frame. So, that leaves the bike free of unsightly tech stuff. At that price point, you can expect to find a lot of innovation. For one thing, it is one of the only bikes that have automatic gear shifting. It is called a VanMoof, from The Netherlands.

But like much of what I read from NYT, it is full of breathless adoration for the shiny new bike, and not really looking at some of the downsides. For one thing, batteries have an end-of-life, and you can only charge them so many times before they need to be replaced. Now this can be a matter of a few years, but contrast this to decades for a normal bicycle with no batteries. Can batteries on the VanMoof in fact be replaced? Replacing batteries embedded deep in the frame sounds like a hell of a job. Few reviews of E-Bikes ever mention this.

If you can’t replace the batteries, we are left with a very heavy bike whose automatic shifter likely depended on the battery. In addition the innovative anti-theft system would no longer be functional; neither would the front or back lights, also embedded inside the frame. So are we expected to dispose of the whole bike? I feel that is even a concern for my E-Cartier, since even with the external battery, I have noticed that in recent models, they seemed to change the way the battery is mounted to the frame. It is possible that batteries may not be transferrable across bikes of different model years, by that reasoning.

One gets the feeling that these are not the kinds of questions we are allowed to ask. Just give the salesperson your money. This is the reason I am leery of fully electric cars as well. Once their batteries lose their ability to hold a charge, the entire car is junk. I have driven cars that are more than 25 years old. You can’t do that with any fully electric car on the market. My fear is that the same logic is being applied to the VanMoof.

Brief comments on Jean Vanier

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Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier (1928-2019) was founder of L’Arche, an international organization to help people with disabilities. He was also a philosopher and theologian, who is influential in helping me develop my thoughts on such concepts as forgiveness, which was a last main topic of a series of five Massey Lectures given in 1998 on the program Ideas, on CBC Radio One. I just did a search, and free online audio is available on his series Becoming Human, which has those five lectures. But he keeps coming back to his discussion of L’Arche, and how it is used to teach him about how we overcome our loneliness, fear and anxiety to become more fully integrated into our communities.

While I understand from a CBC report in 2020 revealed allegations of sexual abuse, I feel that this should not be allowed to overshadow his contributions to the humanities and theology.

Laws of Life 6

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Some military adages that translate to real life. From Scott Rainey’s page.

If it’s stupid but it works, it isn’t stupid.

Self-explanatory, I guess. It is the rejoinder to malcontents assigned a task that, in thier narrow and limited view, doesn’t appear to have a point.

Never go to bed with anyone crazier than yourself.

… But then that means that if you are following this saying, then you have to always be the crazier one. … Which means … they shouldn’t be going to bed with you.

The important things are always simple; the simple things are always hard.

It is important to know you shouldn’t smoke. That’s simple. Quitting smoking is the part that is not easy. I think that is the sense of the saying.

Killing for peace is like screwing for virginity.

Oliver’s Law: Experience is something you don’t get until after you need it.

A related saying, called the Vern Sanders Law: Experience is a hard teacher because it gives the test first and then the lesson.

Education is best without any structure but yours

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Learning. My learning style is to open a book and learn stuff, but only when I want to and only about what I want to learn. That had guided my level of academic mediocrity throughout high school and university.

I guess if what you want to use university for is to answer your questions rather than being guided as to what questions they want you to be asking yourself, then that is the path to acedemic mediocrity. Einstein was seen as mediocre in university and had an office job issuing patents to make ends meet before he offered the world his special and general relativity theories. The same was true for Newton, seen as a mediocre math student in Oxford before the Bubonic plague kept him at home thinking obsessively about optics, gravity, and calculus.

The polite thing to say about me is that I am – ahem – not smart in the same way, but the sameness is just in how other assessors saw us. Frankly, when Covid hit, which is a firecracker next to the dynamite that was the Bubonic Plague, I was gaining weight and struggling to stay motivated and engaged with life. No scientific or math breakthroughs for me. Any assessor who thought me as mediocre back in uni would have had their every observation confirmed during Covid.

I did coach, administer and mark several math contests over the past two decades. That’s something, and it is something better than mediocre. I am now leading math clubs, along with Computer Science clubs as my school’s only full-time computer science teacher. Again, not many people would volunteer for any of that. So yes, I may appear mediocre in some circles, but when the rubber hits the road, I gravitate to what is challenging, and rise to the challenge, while urging my students to do the same.

But what about academic achievement? I had to make up for what I didn’t learn on my own, due to my following my own curiosity in any academic programme rather than follow the curriculum. I never surrendered my natural curiosity to forces from academe, regardless of the carrot of higher academic honors being dangled in front of me. In our culture, it seems that learning, even from grade school, boils down to that kind of a tradeoff. I never get a sense that there was ever room for compromise.

Most people give up their special set of questions to pursue what they are told, and it seems they end up comfortable, but losing their natural curiosity, believing that learning is hard, learning is not natural unless you have a pre-digested curriculum with pre-digested questions to answer. These are questions you are not necessarily asking; questions you are not necessarily curious about.

I was always confused as a child as to why I did so poorly in school. I would ask my counsellor why he thought it was. He said he didn’t know. So, it was unknown to science or something? These days, it seems quite simple. My will to learn was never really tamed or never really broken to conform to other’s expectations. Pursuing learning for its own pleasure was one of the few pleasures I seemed to be able to have in my teens, and the nice thing about this pleasure is that it is perennial. So, as a result, I always favoured the self-indulgence of asking my own questions, doing my own reading, and finding things out for myself.

The energy I devoted to that meant I had less energy for the course material at hand. But on some deep level I also didn’t find the idea of giving up my freedom to learn in exchange for a high mark to be that worthwhile a tradeoff. It seemed that the way the education system was set up was to make you feel less competent to do basic things in life, which ought not to be rocket science. Making easy things seem hard is not the mark of a good educational system.

Quotes about social decay

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From Tim Kreider, in a New York Times article from a few weeks ago, It’s Time to Stop The American Scam.

    • It turns out that millions of people never actually needed to waste days of their lives sitting in traffic or pantomime “work” under managerial scrutiny eight hours a day. We learned that nurses, cashiers, truckers and delivery people (who’ve always been too busy to brag about it) actually ran the world and the rest of us were mostly useless supernumeraries.
    • American conservatism, which is demographically terminal and knows it, is acting like a moribund billionaire adding sadistic codicils to his will.
    • An increasingly popular retirement plan is figuring [out whether] civilization will collapse before you have to worry about it.
    • In the past few decades, capitalism has exponentially increased the creation of wealth for the already incredibly wealthy at the negligible expense of the well-being, dignity and happiness of most of humanity, plus the nominal cost of a mass extinction and the destruction of the biosphere — like cutting out the inefficient business of digestion and metabolism by pouring a fine bottle of wine directly into the toilet, thereby eliminating the middleman of you.
    • Of course, everyone is still busy — worse than busy, exhausted, too wiped at the end of the day to do more than stress-eat, binge-watch and doomscroll — but no one’s calling it anything other than what it is anymore: an endless, frantic hamster wheel for survival.
    • There is too much that urgently needs to be done: a republic to salvage, a civilization to reimagine and its infrastructure to reinvent, innumerable species to save, a world to restore and millions who are impoverished, imprisoned, illiterate, sick or starving. All while we waste our time at work.
    • (Kreider, 2012) I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

Social Media Fallout Over Iran’s Crackdown on Mahsan Amini and Recent Protests

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Why cover up such nice hair?

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have by now probably heard about a young Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini, living in Iran who was arrested on 13 September and sent to a “re-education” center by Iran’s morality police for not wearing her hijab properly. She died of a coma at age 22 on 27 September as the result of a severe beating by police. The news about this violation of Iran’s strict dress code was scooped by  journalist Niloufar Hamedi working for an Iranian newspaper called Shargh. Hamedi herself has since been arrested and held in solitary confinement. Similarly, more than 18 other Iranian journalists have also been arrested for covering the protests.

The breaking of this story was followed by protests in the streets, and most notably young women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in protest of Amini’s arrest. Internet and social media had been disrupted in Iran to prevent news of the protest from spreading. It is noteworthy that this is a protest sparked and led by young women, and it is mostly women taking to the streets.

Marge Simpson, cuts her trademark hair in protest of the Iranian hijab law in this depiction by aleXandro Polombo.

Since then, BoingBoing reported on October 8 that an Itialian artist named aleXandro Polombo created an wall painting just outside of the Iranian Consulate in Milan which shows Marge Simpson, a cartoon character of The Simpsons, cutting her hair in protest. The mural has since been removed by Iranian authorities.

The Simpsons has been banned in Iranian television since 2012. According to the clerics, “[the cartoons] corrode the morale of Iranian Youth.”

“What do you mean you only sell vegan pizza with pineapple?!” The host of Iran’s state TV looked flummoxed just after they were hacked.

Then there was the hacking yesterday of Iranian State TV. The usual mundane exchange between old clerics was interrupted with a masked face, followed by an image of cleric Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in flames with a target on his head. The sound was the chant heard earlier in the streets: “Women, life, freedom!”. On the bottom of the frame were pictures of four women killed or held in solitary confinement by Iranian authorities in connection with Ahmini’s death. After a few seconds, the video was abruptly cut short, followed by a host who looked helplessly at the camera, not quite knowing what to say.

The violently suppressed protests have left 154 dead. The number is likely to be low due to the suppression of social media, print media, radio and TV in the country.

Coming out of the closet

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Okay. Brace yourself. I have to say it.

I am a rich person trapped in a poor person’s body. I knew I was “different” from other people in the way that I think that I’m better than everyone else, but have never had the standard of living to match it. This forces me to live a middle-class life where I have to make do without a large house on a few acres of land, a car collection, and a mistress. The conflict, depression, pain and suffering I feel is relentless, and transitioning to the person I always was is very difficult. I rely on my friends to give me the resilience and tenacity to keep me focused in my struggle.

From now on, my preferred pronouns are “your highness”, and “his highness”. I need you to bow before me in order to help me in my transitioning from middle class peasant to a jet-setter with a wealth and salary that disgusts people.

I need about ten million dollars, in order to feel more like myself. It would be an end to my grandiosity, because actually being grand is not the same as being grandiose. I would go from being merely delusional to becoming whole.

A century of Gasoline Alley

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This title card is from the mid-1960s. The comic had already been around for nearly 50 years by this time.

I see that the Toronto Star has purchased rights to publish the continuation of Gasoline Alley, a comic strip started in 1918 and originally written by Frank King, and is just over 104 years old since its first printing on November 24, 1918, around the day of the American Thanksgiving holiday.

The innovations that seemed to impress people at the time regarding this strip, is that it was one of the first to be in color, and one where King took the trouble to show its characters ageing over the progress of the comic strip.  It would then make sense that the comic strip would not have anyone recognizable from the original comic strip. The current cartoonist for this comic is Jim Scancarelli.

By the time Mad Magazine had its own parody of Gasoline Alley (Gasoline Valley), the strip was at least 35 years old.

There was a Mad Magazine parody in their 15th edition, possibly around 1954 called Gasoline Valley. Skeezix, one of the main characters from the original strip, had been renamed “Skizziks” in the parody, turning his name into a palindrome. Frank King was still writing for the comic during this time.

One of the main things Mad parodied was the ageing of the characters, climaxing by Skizziks’s shocking discovery that by his reckoning, he must be his own grandpa.

I had always wondered how King thought up the name Skeezix. It is not a common name. I have spent a bit of time looking up occurrences of the name on the internet, and there are many utterances around the ‘net. skizzix.com is a gamer website. On another website, they are referred to as a fictitious race of humans in a fantasy game. Or maybe it is a goblin wizard. On many sites, Skizzix appears as screen name for a computer nerd. But a real name of a real person? That’s much less common, and would be far from the top 10 of names for your baby.

To see the Mad parody in its entirety, Jeff Overturf has preserved the comic in excellent scans and posted images of the pages on his website.

Biting the hand that feeds you, then asking to be fed: A study of Ron DeSantis

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In other Hurricane Ian news, there is also the one about Hurricane Ron. Florida governor Ron DeSantis, long an opponent of government relief for previous hurricane victims and advising flood victims in Puerto Rico and other states to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and not ask for government handouts, is now asking for government handouts from Joe Biden.

Sending that planeload of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, the retirement home of many high luminaries in the Democratic Party as well as cottage country for the high class liberals now looks short-sighted and idiotic, to say nothing of DeSantis’s seeking every opportunity to thumb his nose at Democratic leaders. It is hard to tell how this begging Biden for funds will play out. DeSantis bites the hand that fed him, now he is asking to be fed.

But now the immigrants must feel relieved to be flown out of harm’s way. It illustrates how attempts to use immigrants as political pawns can backfire in so many ways. I get the feeling that he will bet on the short memory of the public, and try to say that he was actually doing them a favour.

Kayla Lemieux

Hits: 23

Today, I was watching a recording of Bill Maher (September 23 episode) on YouTube, and just before he went to New Rules, he had a short summary of news on a transgender shop teacher named Kayla Lemieux. This would be a boring story with a hint of spectacle if it were not for the fact that Maher, who is based in Los Angeles, was relating this story about this teacher who works in Oakville, here in Canada. Because the news travelled so far, I thought I would give this another look.

He teaches at Oakville Trafalgar High School (OTHS), a school in a tony neighbourhood located in southeast Oakville, and part of the Halton District Public School Board.

Lemieux has been transitioning over the past year, and since this school year has started, pictures of her sporting large triple-Z prosthetic breasts under a tight shirt along with bike shorts have gone viral on Twitter. Having a tight shirt over large breasts with nipples poking through would normally violate school board dress codes, but in the case of Lemieux, the Director of the Halton District School Board is defending her.

Lemieux has become the poster T-Girl of every right-wing news outlet that appears to exist, right up to Fox News where it surfaced on Tucker Carlson on September 19, where Carlson hyperbolically called the situation “an attack on your children”. It even crossed the Atlantic to Britain’s Daily Mail. About the only thing to come out of the situation is to provide a “red meat” issue for consumers of right wing media. Other media appear to be ignoring it. While Lemieux appears prominently on Know Your Meme, information is lacking as to how much this is trending, exactly. Overall, it doesn’t appear to be a big deal on the internet generally.

The protest had more police and jounralists than the actual protestor, of which there was one. (Toronto Sun)

I was able to finally find a Canadian article from The Toronto Sun, (still a right-wing publication, I know — and an opinion piece besides) where they report that the anticipated protest which was to happen at OTHS this Monday past was attended by exactly one person who would not give his name to the reporters, but eventually identified himself as a former OTHS student. The Sun columnist admits that the situation really didn’t cause much of a stir other than questions being asked of the board and administators, and that most of what could be called outrage was online. The online people may well be from out of the province and most likely from the States, where the right wing press was foaming at the mouth over it. It still didn’t stop the Sun columnist, Anthony Furey, from trying to hyperbolize it into something outrageous, even though not many people from the actual school experienced any emotion that you could say rose to the level of outrage. There were discussions, there were questions, there were concerns for sure. But it appears that is as far as it’s getting.

Overall, apart from right-wing noise coming mostly from media outlets desparate for spectacle, our culure seems pretty accepting of such people on the whole. It appears to be a lot of noise, signifying nothing. In the final analysis, Lemieux has a right to express herself as she likes, and that right is protected. About all one can accuse her of is poor taste and making a few people feel uncomfortable. The school board — and all school boards that face this situation — have to come to terms with writing a dress code that acknowledges the right for kids to learn without feeling distracted and cringey, while respecting those who lead alternative lifestyles. Where they conflict, the right of kids to learn in a conducive environment should take precedence.

Updates

  1. I take it back. The Toronto Star has been all over this story, but never naming the teacher that was implicated. There seemed to be a later, somewhat louder protest on 23 September in front of the school, but pictures I’ve seen maybe have the number of protestors at no bigger than 12 or so.
  2. A dozen protestors might be significant for a school, but of course the Star reporter would hopefully like to know who they are, and if they are actually from the region. A voice speaking into a megaphone sounded “right-wing” to the reporter; and some adults that showed up were affiliated with the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), a tiny far right Ottawa-based party whose platform advocates the restricting of immigration, and putting an end to multiculturalism. They also want to loosen the gun laws to legalize 1500 kinds of recently-banned weapons such as the AR-15, and M16, generally the kinds of weapons used at the Sandy Hook, New Zealand, Las Vegas, Orlando, Ecole Poytechnique, and Quebec City Mosque mass shootings. Only a few people at the protest were actual parents of kids at the school. The Star is not clear as to how many of them were there.
  3. More to the point, the PPC wishes to repeal Bill C-16 which was passed by the Liberals in 2018. This introduces legislation under the Canadian Human Rights Act to prevent discrimination based on a person’s preferred gender. It also adds provisions to the Crimial Code making those who target others based on transgendered identity or expression a hate crime. This also covers hate speech targeting transgenders. This bill also received the support of the opposition Conservative Party.
  4. Trustee Tracey Ehl said she has received emails from outside of Canada that apparently come from hate groups, regarding Lemieux. Any coming from her own constituents? The Toronto Star doesn’t say.
  5. But Halton region did in fact have meetings involving school trustees over persuading the director to make changes to the dress code; and even Stephen Lecce, the education minister, has sent a request to the standards body, the Ontario College of Teachers, to see if they could tighten the rules around a dress code for teachers.

(Almost) Binge Watching Monarchy News

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queen and kermit
Queen Elizabeth shaking hands with Kermit The Frog.

I can say that I have not sat in front of the television for a sustained number of hours watching all things related to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, but I can see that the networks are trying hard to make it a reality.

Thank God I have a PVR so I can think of other things to do, but still not miss too many details over the couse of time. Most of these docs were made only in recent years before her death, but on CBC’s The Documentary Channel, here they are, all presented in one go, for a good 6-8 hours or so. So I surf to each show on the programming schedule timeline, and press Record, so that I can view them on my own time.

What can I say in these bizarre days of tribalism, global warming, political wingnuts, poverty and social decay, except that this news is the closest thing to normal I have heard about in a long time. Not that British monarchs die every day; but that I think it just connects us to a more normal past.

100 New words in the OED

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This is a selection of new words included in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as of March 2022 from January 2020. There are 100 words here, and I skipped way more than that. I was aiming for “woke” words, LBGTQ2S words, medical words, words we have heard in casual or ordinary speech, internet words, and generally words that surprised me for being included only now, after hearing them spoken almost since childhood.

I will make occasional remarks.

  1. adorkable
  2. adulting – One of many nouns, repurposed as a verb.
  3. all-dressed
  4. anneal – One of many scientific words that have been around for decades.
  5. anti-ageing
  6. anti-black, anti-blackness
  7. anti-gay
  8. anti-piracy
  9. anti-spam
  10. anti-vaccine – So many “anti” words! Is there anything we are in favour of these days?
  11. awesomesauce
  12. baked-in – A cooking metaphor to be used in non-cooking contexts.
  13. b-day
  14. birth stain
  15. birthing room
  16. bliss point – Also called the Goldilocks zone: not too much nor too little.
  17. body-shame (-ing, -er)
  18. bogosity
  19. bombogenesis – One of many novel weather terms to sensationalize the weather.
  20. Born-Haber – The Born-Haber Cycle, a term nearly 100 years old.
  21. bread bowl
  22. breading
  23. by-catch – A fishing term that has also been around for decades.
  24. cable tie
  25. Calvin cycle – Another term that has been in science texts for decades.
  26. chapstick
  27. chatterbot
  28. chinese checkers (chequers) – Both are the same game. This one has been around for decades, and I am surprised this wasn’t accepted as English until now.
  29. christenly, christianing, Christ Jesus, Christly
  30. code-named
  31. colonialization, colonialized, colonializing
  32. comorbid (-ity)
  33. conflicted
  34. contact tracing – One of many new English terms to come from the Covid epidemic.
  35. contactless – Another term from the Covid era.
  36. cook-chilled
  37. cooked-up
  38. cookie jar
  39. Cookie Monster – Is this not still a proper noun?
  40. cookless
  41. cookware
  42. coulrophobia – Fear of clowns have been a thing for decades.
  43. Covid
  44. Covid-19 – You saw these coming.
  45. CPAP – A medical acronym now an English word.
  46. critical rationalism – What other kind is there? So, is there a critical “irrationalism”?
  47. cross border – Apparently, we haven’t crossed borders until the last 3 years.
  48. dashcam
  49. decolonial (-ize, -ization)
  50. defund (-ing)
  51. delete, delete button, delete key
  52. demisexual
  53. denialism
  54. destigmatizing
  55. dox (-ing) with one “x” – Now we know of the proper spelling, although I sense that “doxxing” (with 2 x’s) will be soon to follow.
  56. editorialization
  57. e-waste
  58. fat-shame (-er, -ing) – Really, there is shame or there is no shame. But “shaming” (now a verb) is so ubiquitous as a form of cyberbullying that we now have to divide it into categories. Not sure how that is helpful.
  59. foreignize (-ized, -izing, -ization) – Tortured english words are becoming more accepted, I see.
  60. garbageologist, garbageology
  61. gaslighter – This term has caught people’s imaginations and has been enjoying wide use as a word. While decades-old, it has only enjoyed wide use recently.
  62. gig economy
  63. gotch – I remember hearing this word used to mean underwear when I was a kid.
  64. gut level
  65. henpecking
  66. infodemic
  67. Jeez Louise
  68. jeezly – A friend poked fun at me for using this word in a sentence. Now it is part of our accepted lexicon, and I get the last laugh.
  69. Jesusy
  70. kvetching, kvetchy – Old Yiddish terms which I have seen in general use for decades have now entered the English lexicon.
  71. media literacy
  72. Muskoka chair
  73. novichok
  74. on-brand
  75. passive aggression – A thing which seems to be generally attributable to describing the behaviour of anyone we don’t like.
  76. pay gap
  77. postcolonialism, postcoloniality
  78. price gouge
  79. R0 – That’s “R-zero”.
  80. self-isolate (-ed, -ion, -ing)
  81. self-quarnatine (-ed)
  82. self-sabotage (-ing), self-saboteur
  83. shelter in place – More covid-era terms.
  84. sixty-nine (the sex position), along with its synonym: soixante-neuf – I have to be honest, I didn’t know about “soixante-neuf” becoming so widely used in English that we had adpoted it.
  85. social distancing
  86. social isolation
  87. stink eye
  88. suicide belt – Apparently, a part of the midwestern to western United States, extending from the 49th parallel to Mexico.
  89. tat
  90. triaged, triaging
  91. vax, vaxxed
  92. virtue signal (-er, -ing)
  93. vote-wise
  94. votive candle
  95. vuvuzela
  96. wankstain
  97. womxn – English can’t get much more tortured than this. Is this word meant to be spoken?
  98. zip line, zip liner, ziplining
  99. zip tie
  100. zoomer

Blake Masters

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It used to be easy to find primary source information on Blake Masters until he decided to run for senator in Arizona. Masters is a big follower of Peter Thiel, having written several blog articles of his lecture notes on computer company startups while Thiel was a lecturer at Stanford. The course CS183 yielded quite a lengthy blog posting and a book entitled Zero to One on Comptuer Startups, attributed to “Peter Thiel with Blake Masters”.

When Thiel left Stanford to start and run PayPal, Masters was taken on and worked closely with Thiel.  Thiel’s businesses grew to the point where he became influential in politics, and becoming influential in Donald Trump’s administration. However, apart from tax cuts and deregualtion, Trump didn’t accomplish much else. Masters was, until his entry into politics, Chief of Operations at Thiel Capital, an investment firm owned by Peter Thiel. He resigned from the Thiel group of companies to pursue his political career, with Thiel’s blessing, moving from California to Arizona, where the political climate is more favourable for a Trumpian like himself to be nominated for candidate for the GOP senate there.

Since his declaration to run for senator, searching for “Blake Masters” on Duck Duck Go yielded results that were overrun by recent aticles by news outlets and blogs about him and his Silocon Valley style of libertarianism, his designs for presidential candidacy, and his connections with Trump. His close connections with Thiel has benefitted him in his political ambitions, in that Thiel has contributed $10 million to a Super PAC toward his candidacy.

My impression of what has been written about Masters by recent press is that he is Trump with more character and discernment. The brains behind him, it appears, will always be Thiel. Masters has seemed to align his opinions and approach to white supremacy, and his opinions on second amendment rights to Alex Jones. However, he does this by questioning our agreed-upon assumptions about racial equality and gun control. He has said that “black people, frankly” are to blame for gun violence. He advocates against gun control even to the point of including “ghost guns” – home-made, untraceable firearms which are illegal in several states.

He also appears to be a fan of the writings of Ted Kaczynski, known as The Unabomber, listing his essay “Industrial Society and Its Future” as recommended reading.

All this to say if Masters is elected, what could possibly go wrong?

A momentary distraction: simonsinek.com

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Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek

There is a fella who looks like he’s in his mid-thirties, but is actually 48 years old. His name is Simon Sinek, and he had given Ted talks, written motivational books, and appears to be a great motivational speaker, judging by the videos I’ve seen.

His background in cultural anthropology has done him well. He had a BA in that from Brandeis University, and later entered law school, but lost interest and went instead into advertising.

His anthro background shows in his talks, while his advertising background shows in his self-promotion. I went to his website simonsinek.com, and  his bio read more like just another promotion. A bit frustrating, so I went to Wikipedia. There was a short bio on his background. And short it was, since most of the high points in my article above are taken from the Wikipedia article.

For all of his talk on humanism, he appears to want the public to see Simon Sinek the “brand”, not Simon Sinek the “person”. His leadership training for ICE officers and connections to the RAND Corporation seem to be downplayed. Not sure why, since these are surprisingly high connections in American government for a motivational speaker. Or maybe I just stated the problem.

I admire his sharp eye for social trends and his ability to be critical, but done in a way that is positive and constructive. Whatever connecctions he may have in high places that might make us leery, it does not diminish his message and does not diminish his gifts as a speaker. His most touching speeches have to do with what he says about today’s youth.

His website currently promotes, not speeches to youth, but keynote speeches and workshops aimed at staffs of large companies, and workplace coaching. He is the author of 5 books, the most recent is The Infinite Game, published in 2019, a book aimed at businesses.

Nameless, faceless students

Hits: 15

I am curating a list of parent email addresses for this week’s unofficial mailout to parents of their child’s progress reports. I have two — count ’em — two — students who have no parental contact information. I don’t know the kid’s home address, nor their parent’s names, nor anything about them, and certainly not their email addresses.

I am beginning to imagine that some students are taking my fully online course while living in a cardboard box underneath the 403 exit ramp, close enough to Square One Mall and the Central Library to get free wifi and charging outlets on laptops they fished out of a dumpster at Best Buy. At night, they crawl back into their cardboard boxes to sleep with one eye open should there be raccoons or other feral animals about.

To ease their psychological pain and suffering, they set up a moonshine still out of pots shoplifted from Crate and Barrel and discarded polypropylene tubing from the Credit Valley Hospital and cases of whiskey they obtained by breaking into the local LCBO.

Anyway, it actually turns out these kids are from another school disctrict, and so we have minimal information as a result. So there is nothing to worry about. In addition, their attendance and engagement in the online course has been pretty good. Nothing to see here. … Or is there?

The latest on Elongate

Hits: 70

I am conveniently renaming Elon Musk’s takover bid of Twitter from Limpgate to Elongate. Elongate was Elon’s preferred nomenclature for that time when he groped a stewardess or exposed himself, or, hell. I can’t be bothered to look that part up.

But it might be otherwise appropriate to name the Twitter takeover bid, one that has now on its way to the courts, Elongate as well. The Twitter board hopes it can force Musk to seal the deal, and frankly it is so full of missteps and stupidity, that Twitter just might get its way and either extract 40 billion out of him or at the very least, the 1 billion it will cost for Elon to walk away. Elon, being uber-wealthy, can afford tie this up in the courts for years, therby, uh, elongating his freedom from judgement in the public eye.

The reason Elon gives is that it’s about the number of bots. But I just think he wanted to buy his way into a power grab. Buying Twitter would be like buying his own printing press, allowing freedom of speech to him and his friends. Being a private company where he can do anything he wants, he can selectively “moderate” the users he doesn’t like, and allow that unfettered free speech he craves to users he does like. He is a businessman, not a philosopher. He just needs to point to users he hopes to bring back into the fold, such as Donald Trump, and point to him and say that allowing Trump unfettered access is proof that he honors free speech. The appearance of free speech is all the free speech Musk needs.

We all kind of sense this. Since when does an automaker become so passionate about unfettered free speech? Does he allow it for his Tesla employees? The truth is that the 70,000 Tesla employees in the United States are not unionized, and is the only car manufacturer in the United States to operate without any trade union representation. How he sees their rights, free speech and bargaining power is certainly obfuscated by Musk’s bravado and hubris regarding unions in his press releases (or really, his Twitter messages – same thing these days).

Now facing a stock market in freefall (Tesla’s stock has plummeted 34% since January), along with layoffs, and the economy tanking generally, we see a more compelling reason for Elon to want to pull out at the last minute. It is about profit, as it is always about profit. And now he is trying to use the courts to weasel out of the deal, hoping that Twitter will give up as legal costs mount, and the 1 billion dollar severance is no longer cost effective. I think that will take a long time.

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